The ministry of civil aviation’s recent advisory to airlines and airports to play Indian music has caused amusement and concerns in equal measures.
Sent out on December 27 by joint secretary Usha Padhee, it asks domestic air carriers and airport operators to “consider playing Indian music in aircraft operated in India and at airports following the regulatory requisites”.
The letter, which came at the request of the Indian Council of Cultural Research, fails to mention the kind of music to be played. Should it be Hindustani classical, instrumental, Rabindra Sangeet, Bollywood songs or folk?
What the badly worded advisory also missed was that most of the busy airports in the country, like the one in Delhi, are “silent airports”.
To check noise pollution, these airports do not even make announcements except important ones like a gate change.
Padhee’s letter has been met with much amusement by industry watchers, with many asking why the government needed to issue such an advisory.
Though it is an advisory, which is not binding, several people, like this retired senior civil aviation officer, who didn’t wish to be identified, wondered what was next. Advisory on how the crew should dress—sarees or salwar kameez for women and only kurta pajamas for men? Will the government also offer suggestions on the food and drinks that can be served? Will there be an advisory calling for all announcements to be made in Hindi only?
The government’s interference in a deregulated sector does not portend well for the aviation industry, which is reeling under the financial stress brought by the coronavirus outbreak.
The Indian aviation sector has grown to emerge as the third-largest market in the world despite interventions by the government such as a fare cap when domestic flying resumed in May 2020 despite fares being deregulated.
If the government wants the sector to achieve its potential, it will do good well to keep its hands off rather than burdening it with frivolous demands that add to the financial burden.
The government can help airlines by bringing down the costs. Lowering the price of aviation turbine fuel (ATF), the bulk of which is supplied by state-run entities, can be one such move.
ATF accounts for 40 percent of the operating costs of the carriers.
The country has a rich history of airlines and airports promoting India. Under JRD Tata, Air India used its aircraft and offices at home and abroad to showcase India and its rich culture.
Air India aircraft were named after Indian rivers and emperors, even as the interiors carried a bit of India, too, with Jharokhas, an arched window, a quintessential feature of Indian architecture, greeting flyers.
Air India’s offices showcased works of young and upcoming artists. The tradition was carried well into the times of the Manmohan Singh government when the flag carrier’s Boeing aircraft were named after Indian states.
Even private airlines have done their bit. The now-defunct Jet Airways played Indian instrumental music at the time of boarding and deboarding.
This practice is followed worldwide. Middle East airlines play a combination of English and Arabic music on board.
The Delhi airport, run under a public-private partnership with the GMR Group, has a huge installation with various hand mudras, or gestures, greeting visitors at its T3 terminal.SpiceJet tied up with state governments to promote tourism and painted iconic structures on its aircraft that are named after Indian spices.